While browsing the Tableau page: Data is Beautiful and seeing the work of the OFFC, Selfiecity, examining selfies, and even Disney films categorize by the percentage of dialogue spoken by the gender, I decided to find a visualization of data and information on Covid-19. When looking for information, I usually prefer simple graphics and charts. I find the more “beautiful” yet complex information and data visualization to be misleading, confusing and have a higher potential for misinterpretation and exaggeration. However, once I clicked over to covidvisualizer, I began to understand the power of interactive visualization and the work it must have taken to create a beautiful and elegant design that also showcases hard data and information (of course this elegance is taken away by the bombardment of advertisements popping up on screen after spending a minute on the site).
Developed by two students at Carnegie Mellon University, the site reads: “We wanted people to be able to see this as something that brings us all together. It’s not one country or another country; it’s one planet – and this is what our planet looks like today”. The site pulls data from Worldometer every 2 minutes, and it allows you to visualize Covid-19 around the world. You are presented first with a red globe. The key indicates that the darker the hue, the denser in concentration are the deaths due to this virus.
Once you click on a point on the map, it displays raw numbers on deaths, active cases, and recovered patients. Another click allows you to see more detailed information like the number of cases, deaths, and tests per million people in the United States (or country/territory of your choosing). Lastly, the line graph displays the trends in the number of cases each month. While exploring, I was reminded of The Shape of History site and Elizabeth Palmer’s quote, “By emphasizing interaction, she places the source of knowledge in the interplay between viewer, text, and image.” Interacting with the globe, actually rotating it around and around, allowed me to have control over not just the information I wanted to see, but also how much of it I was willing to investigate. While zooming in and out of the globe and the various hues of red, I also thought about Bruno Latour’s definition of visualization, ” Whole’ is now nothing more than a provisional visualization which can be modified and reversed at will, by moving back to the individual components, and then looking for yet other tools to regroup the same elements into alternative assemblages,” (Lev Manovich, “What Is Visualization?“). The globe presented in this infoviz already looks like a great puzzle. Thus, essentially, the authors/designers of this visualization could add another aspect to this project that allows the users to rearrange/ reassemble the pieces (countries/territories) depending on the density of Covid-19 cases.
While covidvisualizer showcases complex information into small digestible bites in a colorful and interactive way, it fails to provide local details about the situation. I saw the information on a global scale, now I wanted to see what was happening locally and how is that information displayed.
Though not always the case, I can see how, as Lev Manovich puts it, “A different way to express this is to say that information design works with information, while information visualization works with data.” The shire number of information collected for a site like Covidvisualizer can be visually convoluted and hard to read in a simple line or bar graph. Therefore, it makes sense to have this data, these numbers, explored in a much more convenient and accessible way. Specifics are not needed here since we are looking at an overview of the world and the virus’s activity. When looking at local information and data, the user’s interest informs the graph and visualization. Therefore, working with smaller numerical values, the data displayed on NYC1 has space and formation. It needs to display overviews and more specific categorized information such as COVID-19 cases by age in Bronx, NY.
While exploring both sites, I’m also noticing the effect the colors, word density, and site navigation have on the actual visualization and graphics. Having black and red hues sets a different narrative tone and mood than pastel colors, for example.
Take a look at Covidvisualizer, what do you think?